Melanie Malcolm, the founder of Yorkshire Ladies Links, tells JLife’s Laura Sefton how she juggles her time and the best bits about hosting a successful event.
You founded Yorkshire Ladies Links in 2012. What is this and who can join?
At Yorkshire Ladies Links we host two free conferences and a range of shopping and charity events throughout the region. These offer networking opportunities and free-to-attend business workshops and coaching covering everything from accountancy and marketing to social media and PR.
Some of our events have guest speakers giving talks on their life stories so it’s not always necessarily a business angle. However on the flip side we do host our Yorkshire Business Festival conference once a year, which targets more businesspeople and employees.
The first conference takes place in March and we host that one around International Women’s Day. This year’s March conference saw over 1,300 people through the door and that, as well as the business one we host later in the year in South Yorkshire, has guest speakers, exhibitors and any business can attend.
It’s not a membership organisation like other networking groups, so everyone is welcome and can join in. This makes it really informal and social.
What led to you setting up Yorkshire Ladies Links?
I have an art degree and set up my own art business so that’s where I developed the skills in dealing with clients and sales. I became a successful commercial artist, selling my work across Yorkshire and the UK. It changed when I had children as it’s hard to be creative when you have little ones.
I then went on to work with my husband’s home cinema business, Bespoke Home Cinemas, promoting it through social media. From that, friends and family asked me to help with their social media and I set up a business offering this service for clients. Through that I had a client who wanted to host some lunches for businesswomen from Yorkshire. I liked it so much that I went on to help with some informal shopping events, saw there was a gap to create an organisation that didn’t mean you had to be tied into anything and from there Yorkshire Ladies Links was formed.
Who organises the conferences?
I organise the conferences. People buy into me and what I do. I do all the marketing, bookings and sponsorship and then I have a team of people that help on the day.
I’d enjoyed working on the events so much that I decided to create a big event for women. A couple of years ago I held the first Yorkshire Ladies Links conference and it was just going to be a small event with one guest speaker and around 30 stands. I ended up with 11 guest speakers, 65 exhibitors and 800 through the door. I was overwhelmed.
Have there been any stand-out moments since YLL was launched?
The biggest moment for me was the day of that first conference. It was the fear that, because it’s a free event, we were just going to have 50 people turn up. To see people queuing out the door was such an amazing feeling.
Setting up your own networking company is a massive achievement. Away from Yorkshire Ladies Links, what other else are you proud of?
Being voted onto the board for CEDIA, the trade organisation for the home technology industry, was a massive achievement. The home technology industry only has a small percentage of females within it, so to be one of three women on the board and to be the only UK-based female member was brilliant. I was nominated and thought I didn’t stand a chance. Since being voted on I’ve been to the AGM in London and gone on to chair a committee.
Would you consider expanding Yorkshire Ladies Links across different regions?
I’ve been approached and I would love to go to another region but I’d like to build my contacts and the network in the next region I go to before I do that. Plus I have my role as director of Bespoke Home Cinemas, my work on the CEDIA board, and I host the Yorkshire Choice Awards, so I have to juggle my time.
How involved in the Leeds Jewish community are you?
In the past I’ve worked on Pride Awards and my family supports community activities and events.
What’s next for YLL – and for you?
We’re having our own Yorkshire Ladies Links race day at Wetherby Racecourse next June, which is so exciting. Also, we’re hosting the next conference at Wetherby Racecourse.
There is another Yorkshire Choice Awards in the pipeline and I’ll be working hard in my role on the CEDIA board on apprenticeships. Watch this space!